IATH takes scholarship into the 21st century

By Jon Bowen, A&S Online, September 2003

On September 18, 1692, Giles Cory was "pressed to death" after being accused of witchcraft. While all the other men and women who died in the Salem Witch Trials were hanged, Cory refused a trial by jury and thus got the dreaded sentence of peine forte et dure , which calls for rocks to be piled on top of the accused until he expires under the load. In Cory's case, it took two days. Obstinate to the end, his last words were, "More weight!"

Twenty years ago, a scholar digging into Cory's life and death would've had to trudge all over the Northeast to visit the half-dozen libraries and historical societies that house the myriad documents, maps and images related to the Salem Witch Trials.

Prof. Benjamin RayScholars of today just visit Benjamin Ray's website . Ray, working through U.Va.'s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), has created a digital documentary archive and transcription project that gathers and centralizes data on the Salem Witch Trials for students, scholars and witchcraft aficionados everywhere. "The computer is your collaborative research environment par excellence," Ray said. With the Salem Witch Trials project, "You have people getting in this research sandbox, in a moderated way, and getting excited about advancing a scholarly project."

The players in Ray's sandbox include Bernard Rosenthal, an English professor at the University of Binghamton who serves as editor-in-chief of transcriptions; a team of managers, editors and assistants working at universities in the United States, Sweden and Finland; and the technical experts on IATH's staff who do the behind-the-scenes work that makes the website run.  

The Salem Witch Trials website is just one of the jewels in IATH's crown. Other research projects sponsored by the Institute include Ed Ayers' The Valley of the Shadow ; Stephen Railton's Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture ; Jerome McGann's Rossetti Archive ; as well as more than 40 other digital projects, in various stages of completion, covering music, linguistics, ethics, architecture and more.

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